There is nearly universal agreement that our Congress is currently unable to function as the founders had intended — witness the recent Senate vote on background checks for gun purchases, which flies in the face of 91% of the people in this country those officials supposedly represent. Given that there is no clause in the constitution that allows for the disbanding of the group, sad to say, I sought a solution elsewhere. I found it in Jonathan Swift’s remarkable book Gulliver’s Travels. In the third of Lemuel Gulliver’s trips, he visits the city of Lagado on the island of Balnibarbi. While there he visits an academy, as I have mentioned in a previous blog. During that visit he encounters an “ingenious doctor who seemed to be perfectly versed in the whole nature and system of government.” That eminent doctor cured incompetent legislators in the following manner, which we would do well to imitate:
It is allowed that senates and great councils are often troubled with redundant, ebullient, and other peccant humors, and with many diseases of the head, and more of the heart; with strong convulsions, with grievous contractions of the nerves and sinews in both hands, but especially the right; with spleen, flatus, vertigos, and deliriums; with scrofulous tumors full of fetid purulent matter; with sour frothy eructations, with canine appetites and crudeness of digestion, and besides many others too numerous to mention. This doctor therefore proposed that upon the meeting of a senate, certain physicians should attend at the three first days of their sitting, and at the close of each day’s deliberations feel the pulses of every senator; after which, having maturely considered and consulted upon the nature of the several maladies, and the methods of cure, they should on the fourth day return to the senate house, attended by their apothecaries stored with the proper medicines; and before the members sit, administer to each of them lenitives, aperitives, abstersives, corrosives, restringents, palliatives, laxatives, cephalagics, icterics, apophlegmatics, acoustics, as their several cases required; and according as these medicines should operate, repeat, alter, or omit them at the end of the meeting.
This project could not be of any great expense to the public and would in my poor opinion, be of much use in the dispatch of business in those countries where senates have any share in the legislative power; beget unanimity, shorten debates, open a few mouths which are now closed, and close many more which are now open; curb the petulancy of the young, and correct the positiveness of the old; rouse the stupid, and damp the excitable. . . . .
He likewise directed that every senator in the great council of a nation, after he had delivered his opinion and argued in the defense of it, should be obliged to give his vote directly contrary; because if that were done the result would infallibly terminate in the good of the public.
Given the immense popularity of Gulliver’s Travels, which had been in print for 50 years when the founders of this country declared independence from England, I suppose we can account for the fact that the above advice does not appear in the constitution or any supporting documents because it was supposed everyone had read the book.